Considering his physical gifts and his history of making impressive plays on the Nova Southeastern University practice field, it’s no surprise that DeVante Parker has been among the Dolphins’ best players in on-field work the past three months, including another terrific catch on Thursday.
But the fact that Parker is still here at all stands among the biggest personnel surprises of this past tumultuous Dolphins offseason.
Last December, it was widely presumed that Parker would be jettisoned this offseason for multiple reasons: his $9.4 million fifth-year option for a team looking to create cap space; the Dolphins’ desire to move on from a bunch of veterans; his career-low numbers in catches and yards last season (24 for 309, in 11 games), and his agent’s scathing criticism of Adam Gase’s decision to make him a healthy scratch in an October loss to Detroit.
And yet here we are, with Parker again using his athleticism and 6-3 frame to make a bundle of impressive catches in May, June and July practices.
Parker remaining with the Dolphins “surprised everybody,” his agent Jimmy Gould said by phone last week. “You could have said there were 100 reasons for it not to happen. But I stepped back and said, ‘Why not?’”
So how did it happen?
Days before the mid-March start of free agency, Gould asked Parker where he would like to play if Miami, as expected, declined the $9.4 million option.
“I asked DeVante, ‘Where would you like to play football?’” Gould said. “He said, ‘I want to play for the Miami Dolphins.’ I said, ‘Good because that’s where I would like you to be.’”
So Gould called general manager Chris Grier, a few days before players could begin signing with other teams on March 13. Here’s how that conversation went down:
“I said, ‘Chris, would you like DeVante to be here?’ His reaction was, ‘Can I think about that one?’
“He was intrigued by it and wanted to talk to coach [Brian Flores]. He didn’t do a lot of thinking; he got right back to me. He said, ‘What do you have in mind?’ I said, ‘What do you have in mind?’”
A handful of other teams expressed interest, but Gould was determined to get something done with Miami because that was his client’s preference.
Within 24 hours, the sides had a new deal.
Instead of honoring the non-guaranteed fifth-year option on his contract that Miami had exercised last summer, which would have paid the team’s 2015 first-round pick $9.4 million, the Dolphins signed him to a new two-year deal that could be worth as much as $13 million if all incentives are met.
“We all made up our mind that we would explore this in a different way [than simply picking up the option], which nobody had really considered,” Gould said.
Gould admits that if Adam Gase hadn’t been fired, Parker likely would not have considered a return. And Gase might not have been interested, either.
That’s because Gase marginalized Parker at times last season, with the tipping point Oct. 21 against the Lions, when Parker was inactive for the fifth time in seven games as Gase insisted that Parker - who had been dealing with a strained quad - “is not completely healthy yet.”
That incensed Gould, who said at the time that Gase was “not telling the truth and his decision was an example of poor management and cost the team the best opportunity to win. He continues attacking the health of my client and this is not acceptable. Parker is not only healthy but wants to help this team win and the only real question that should be asked is how does Coach Gase justify his own incompetence.
“I’m sick to my stomach. I’m tired of watching coach Gase make these decisions. This was the third game DeVante should have played and didn’t. Coach Gase should have made himself inactive. He has taken advantage of a great young man, a terrifically gifted football player with God-given talent and made him a scapegoat.”
Gould, who never asked for a trade last year or at any time, revealed that he reached out to Gase soon after making those comments and left him a message indicating that “I could have handled it differently. I never got a response. I didn’t necessarily apologize but said I am sorry if I didn’t handle it as well as I could have handled it. I don’t make an excuse for representing a player the way I need to. That’s my job. I don’t take back the comments, but you move on.”
But Gould, who has been an agent for 26 years, had always maintained a good relationship with Grier, and that helped with getting Parker back to Miami. Grier also clearly thought more of Parker’s ability than Gase did.
“I’ve known Chris and his dad [former Patriots vice president/player personnel Bobby Grier] a long time,” Gould said. “I did Terry Glenn’s deal in 1996 with Bobby. I have great respect for Chris [and] Stephen Ross. Chris Grier and I have always had a great relationship. I never criticized Chris, [former Dolphins executive] Mike Tannenbaum or Stephen Ross.”
Gould noted that even though he lives in Cincinnati, he pays for Dolphins season tickets and often wears a Dolphins shirt or hat while jogging near his home.
Gould considers this a fresh start for Parker, who has 163 catches for 2217 yards (13.6 average) and nine touchdowns in 54 games, including 31 starts.
As evidence of what Parker can do if incorporated in the offense, Gould cites Parker’s six-catch, 134-yard game Oct. 25 at Houston.
“If you watched the Houston game and can get that out of him eight games a year, and can stay healthy, he could be a difference maker,” Gould said. “What’s different now is he made a choice to be here. It’s an opportunity with a fresh start with a terrific head coach. DeVante has approached it with a real fervor and attitude that it’s really his time.”
Gould’s unusual on-the-record criticism of Gase was a reflection of passion for his clients. His first NFL client, former Vikings Pro Bowl offensive lineman Korey Stringer, died 18 years ago this week a day after collapsing from heat stroke. “It made me feel vulnerability,” Gould said.
He took Parker’s diminished role personally last year because of his lengthy background with the Parker family.
“I have a great deal of love and affection for DeVante and his family,” Gould said. “He’s a quiet young man and determined and competitive. DeVante doesn’t talk off the field. He knows he will be measured by what he does on the field. He will get balls [a lot of other] people won’t get.
“When you have high expectations of talent, sometimes people feel let down. But you have to step back with your emotions. The big thing was he truly wanted to be in Miami.”
So perhaps, given a second chance here, the former 14th overall draft pick will become the Pro Bowl caliber performer Miami hoped he would be. The physical gifts are certainly there.
A successful season for him?
“A thousand yards,” Parker said Wednesday.
“I haven’t done it yet,” Parker said, with his previous high 744 in 2016.
Receivers coach Karl Dorrell likes what he has seen: “It’s a clean slate. I don’t want skeletons in the closet to haunt him. He’s very coachable. He wants to be great.”
Here’s my Thursday post with a lot more Dolphins nuggets, including insight from assistant coaches on various issues and more lineup changes.